Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Ode to the Couch

I am currently blogging a couch. I forgot what having furniture is like. It is kind of glorious. My fellow trainees are I are at the beach for our "free weekend." Of course, free weekend is more like free day considering we left early on Saturday and have to leave today (Sunday) at like 4. But nonetheless, free weekend is awesome. We have an amazing house on the beach with the following amenities: air conditioning, running water, showers, a complete kitchen, television, wifi, and did I mention yet that there are couches? I mean do not get me wrong I love the Salvadoran obsession with hammocks too! But couches are great too :)

I am not quite ready to leave. This weekend was totally necessary. It has been so nice to just relax without thinking about being around people and a different language all the time. Plus, the amenities are nice too. I got to Skype with Hannie bear (best friend) and take a nice shower (not hot but still lovely). And I slept like a baby in my air conditioning. Great night.

I will leave the rest of the details of free weekend to your imagination. I am sure you can picture the shenanigans for yourself.

I am going to use this time now to update the blog on my week since Immersion day. This week we had a lot of activities with our youth group. We have our field day on Friday where the kids are going to compete in a variety of games and then we are going to give a discussion on the environment. This week we tye dyed t shirts with the kids. One team is black and purple and the other is green and yellow. The kids had so much with it. I have never seen kids so happy as when we revealed the t shirts! Oh the simple things. We also completed a garden project with them this week. We planted tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, etc. Ill admit though we spent a lot of the time there actually eating oranges off the trees...:)

I also taught my first English class to seventh grade this week. It was on clothing and possessive pronouns. I started with a jigsaw puzzle, used pictures to explain the clothing, had them repeat, then did pronouns and had them do sentences, and then I played a board game including clothing and sentences for them to complete to get to the end. I think for my first class it went really well. But Ill admit it was really hard to keep their attention. Also, their level of English is very low and it makes it tough for me when I have to explain everything in Spanish. But I guess it helps me speak more Spanish, so that is always a plus.

On the Spanish note I think I am getting a lot better. We have our interviews coming up in a week and a half. Of course, I am super super nervous. But this week we have a lot of time in our communities to focus on Spanish, so I think I should be okay to get into the required level.

I think this is it for now. But all I have to say now is that I think the world is ending. Earthquakes, meteors, hurricanes, etc. I hope Irene was nice to you guys in Delaware! Love.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Immersion Day

One aspect of Peace Corps training is that each trainee about half way through visits a current volunteer in their site for four days and three nights. This past weekend I went to Las Dantas, San Pedro, Victoria, Cabanas, which is extremely close to the Honduran border way up north. Before I begin my entry, I would like to extend a huge thank you to current PCV Kelsey for being an inspiring and gracious host this weekend! Not only did I survive the weekend, more importantly I had an incredible time. Thanks again Kelsey!!!!

Recap commence: On Thursday I awoke and completed my normal routine here in San Esteban. I said “bye” to my host mom and I could not help but notice how concerned she looked. It is so nice knowing she cares so much, but it also made me nervous as I was about to make a five hour journey alone using the wonderful public transportation system here in El Salvador. I took a pick up truck down to the Pan American, waited for a bus for about twenty minutes, and got on Bus 116 headed towards San Rafael Cedros, which took about 35 minutes. There I crossed the road and went to the bus stop across the street and caught the 112 to Sensuntepeque, which took about an hour and a half. There I met Kelsey who was in town to do some shopping. Sensuntepeque is the closest place to her site where she can buy a lot of items and it is about two hours away from her site. We went through the market, bought some fruit and some other things, and then we got on a huge pick up truck that would take us to her site. Kelsey kept apologizing to me about the duration of the journey, but it was not too bad. The roads to her site are in really bad condition and in the pick up truck you have to swing back and forth to avoid getting nailed by a tree, but I was busy asking Kelsey so many questions that I was not too overwhelmed by the ride.

We arrived in her site and she took her house. It is absolutely darling! Furthermore, lucky girl has a regular toilet and a regular, which surprised me so much given that she lives in an incredibly rural site (and so far away – see journey above). We had a little snack and then left to visit her school. Kelsey and her school director are working on a grant project to redo their roof and so they were writing that and taking measurements of the necessary places. I enjoyed this mostly because we have not covered this part much in training yet, because it comes later in November when we return to San Vicente for technical training (they do it this way so that you go to your site for two months and then come back and know more about what your community is going to need). Also, it was helpful to just listen because Kelsey’s Spanish is so amazing. Quite intimidating at times, but she was so humble and supportive of my own progress, which I greatly appreciated the whole weekend. We spent awhile at the school and then returned to her house where we helped a girl in her community with her English homework. Then we made pasta with veggies and just spent the rest of the night chatting about all things Peace Corps.

The next morning we returned to the school where I talked with a professor and his students for a bit while Kelsey continued to work on her project. We returned to her house for lunch (grilled cheese J ) and then afterwards went throughout her community to do some house visits. The people in her community were so nice and seem to love her so much. I loved seeing all the kids in the streets shout her name and everyone ask her to come over. We stopped in a few houses where of course everyone feed us dulces, tamales, coffee, etc. Following those house visits, Kelsey and I walked back up to the school to meet the young girls of the family I would be staying with for the rest of the weekend. (The goal of immersion weekend is also to stay with a family and get used to life in a site—not a cushy training community).

In my host family in San Pedro, there is a mom and three girls. But they live pretty much next door to an aunt and grandmother who have more and more young girls. This family was absolutely incredible! We got there and the mom served us dulce, yucca, and coffee. Then we lost power, so the girls and I played jacks in the dark by the light of my headlamp. Finally when the lights came back on we had a dance party. Yes, I made a complete and utter fool of myself, but I think they loved it. After the dance party, we all went to sleep.

The next morning everyone woke up at 5:30. We had breakfast including tamales, cream, plantains, and bread served with coffee. Then I spent the day taking part in the family’s everyday activities. This includes washing clothes, making tortillas, and killing, cooking, and eating a chicken. Yes, I took part in the killing of a chicken. (Sorry to the former vegetarian in me). Essentially the process is as follows: You feed the chickens, wait for them to all come running, grab one by the leg, tie it up and let it hang there for a few minutes, and then proceed to twist its neck until it breaks. Then it flutters around for a bit and eventually dies. After that you put it in a pot with scalding water and then take all the feathers out. After that you wash it with soap and water and remove various unwanted parts. Of course, they keep a lot of the insides (which I don’t recommend eating- the kidney was awful). I know some people are probably cringing, but to be honest it is a part of life and completely necessary for the family. There are no real stores in the town for people to just buy tons of food. They rely on what they have available.

Throughout the day I spent a lot of time chatting with girls, having random dance parties, making a long trek to a store for things for the house. We also went to the mill where the grind the corn to make tortillas. Around four we went up to the church where I watched the girls practice in their little choir for Sunday. When we returned it was time for dinner, which was beans, tortillas, and eggs. After that we went to the aunt’s house to watch home videos of an English festival in their town. By the time it was over it was about 8:30 and we all went to bed shortly after.

The next morning I got up at the same time and the oldest girl in the house walked me to the bus stop around 6:30. Given the distance it was recommended that I try and leave early. Of course, there was no buses or anything “public” running, so I hitchhiked, which according to Kelsey is extremely normal in her community because there is not much public resources available throughout the day. Everything turned out perfectly and I was back in San Esteban by 12:30. I will admit it was nice to return “home” to the warm hug and kiss from my host mom and the glorious site of San Esteban, especially because on Sunday there was a corn festival and a soccer game with the neighboring community making it an awesome day here in my little pueblo.

I have to mention here some of the distinct differences between life in San Esteban and my immersion day site. Here in San Esteban I live in a pretty large house, the latrine is in a shed like structure, we have a bucket shower that is also in a shed like structure, my host family does a significant amount of shopping at a supermarket giving us a variety of food choices, and we have a small television with a few channels. In my immersion day site the house was two rooms, the latrine was really far away from the house, there was no shower area so you bathe with your clothes on next to the pila, there is no regular access to a large market (two hours away), and there is no television, little cell phone service, etc.

It was definitely quite a change to go from my life here in San Esteban to life in the “campo”. But despite that, I still had a phenomenal time. We are supposed to use this past weekend as a means of telling our project manners what we are looking for in a permanent site. For instance, do we want a rural or urban site, isolated or close to a big city, spread out or compact, big or small, close to other volunteers, etc. Before leaving for immersion weekend I thought I wanted a relatively big site with regular access to stores and luxuries. But this weekend really showed me that a site is honestly what you make of it. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if things are a little bit more “rough,” you can still laugh and have an incredible experience.

So I have made it half way through Peace Corps training. And still going strong! We have this week and then our “free weekend” – translation: one day off. But all the trainees are going to the beach! I am very excited to get to know everyone outside of talking about Spanish, bowel movements, and our never ending fear of getting Dengue.

Love from El Salvador!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Training Projects

Word of warning: this was written on Sunday.

In my last blog post I tried to provide an adequate look at the life of a Peace Corps El Salvador trainee. But I figured I needed a follow up post that would more directly highlight what I need to accomplish during training. Aside from learning Spanish, going to all the sessions in San Vicente, and making various community contacts, there are also a few other requirements.

One of those requirements is that we complete a mini project with a youth group in our respective communities. We met with our group on Friday at the school. They are a very active, participative, rowdy group of eighth graders. I am happy to report that our meeting went wonderfully. We started with a name game ice breaker that the kids loved, then we introduced ourselves and Peace Corps, had another ice breaker to divide them into four groups, and then each of the four groups brainstormed project ideas. I was so impressed with our kids. Their ideas include: cleaning up the community and or school, recycling project, art/craft/artesian project, garden project, discussions of prevention and health, sports day, and quite a few more. We are meeting with them tomorrow to vote on the ideas and then make a decision about which one we are going to tackle. I am just so thrilled that the kids had such good ideas and are so anxious to do something. Of course, we will have to see how many show up tomorrow, but right now I am pretty optimistic.

In addition to the project with the students, we also have to teach an English class at the end of this month in the school. I am incredibly nervous about the entire thing. First and foremost, I am not a competent teacher. Also, I would argue that my English is definitely not the best. Of course, I am a native speaker, but seriously my grammar is in the toilet. Anyway, another reason I am feeling apprehensive is that we observed the English class at the school early this week and it was dreadful in more ways than one. The students were doing the following instead of learning: leaving the room, talking, shouting “teacher,” out buying snacks, singing, and randomly getting up. To make matters worse the teacher was giving a lesson completely wrong. I guess that should make me feel better about my own ability to teach English, but it doesn’t. All I can do right now is hope I get an awesome topic to teach and try not to worry about it too much.

Next, I have to give a formal discussion in front of the whole training group and my two project managers about a certain topic. This is kind of like performing an entire teaching lesson in front of them. My topic is trash management and I am doing it with another trainee named Rachael. I am actually excited about this one because it is in English (which is definitely easier) and it is a topic that I definitely hope to work a lot with here in El Salvador. Plus, I think Rachael and I came up with a good lesson plan. So, I am feeling good about that presentation.

This is in addition to the rest of the community contacts that I have to make on my own with people or institutions that we have not interviewed yet, achieving an Intermediate on my Spanish interview, and completing my random homework assignments.

Between the last post and this one, I feel like this is way to work oriented and not enough of the other stuff. So let’s see what else happened this week:

We had a field trip to San Salvador on Thursday, which included a museum trip, a visit to the main headquarters of Peace Corps, the metro center shopping area and of course Pizza Hut. It was a good day. No one got robbed or had any issues throughout the whole process, which is good to hear considering someone got shot 4 blocks from the Peace Corps office a few days before (which now means no one can walk to the office, you must arrive in a bus or a cab).

Moving on before I worry my mother with the dangerous topics…I promise everything is tranquil here where I live. Well except for the weather, but I feel like I am getting used to the ridiculousness that is the rain here. I also feel like as I approach the one month mark that I am really starting to love my family (half of which left on Saturday to go back to the states and I cried my eyes out already). I really don’t want to think about leaving here. My host mom is so cute and brings me everywhere with her holding my hand. My host sister is awesome because she speaks slowly so that I can learn more words and we went shopping together today. She is my age but she has a son (whose father is in the states) . Our lives are different but we still have a good time together. My host dad is quiet but the Real Madrid v. Barcelona game was today and I bought him a Barcelona mug in the market (we both like Barcelona and everyone else in the house likes Real Madrid) and that made him have a great big smile. We have a great comfortable silence during soccer games. Speaking on which, the game ended in a tie, so we are all equally happy/sad.

I think that it is for now. But here are a few things to note about this upcoming week:
I have class on Monday and the meeting with my student group
Tuesday I am in San V for meetings, medical, etc.
Wednesday is more class
And then Thursday I leave for IMMERSION WEEKEND, which is where I deal with my first big test since arriving. I am spending the weekend with a PCV somewhere (unknown to me right now). It could end up I have to travel up to 8 hours by myself to reach this person (yes all by myself). This is the first chance we are going to get to see what life is really like for a volunteer. I am pretty sure this is make it or break it time. Wish me luck!

Look out for the follow up post about Immersion Weekend and find out if I survived!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Breakdown of Training

I finally realized that I have yet to describe what my actual day to day life is like here in El Salvador during this training period. I can only blame this lapse on my lack of internet access and I am sure that by the end of this you will realize all of my time is accounted for with various meetings, which may or may not bore you to pieces. But here goes nothing:

Training here in El Salvador is community based, which means we are in our host communities most of the week. During those days we have Spanish class from 8-12, lunch from 12-1, and then Spanish class again from 1-4:30. Sometimes in the afternoon instead of having class, we have a meeting with a local community organization or influential person. Thus far these meetings/interviews have included: faculty members at the local school, the school director, a witchdoctor, and the member of an ADESCO, which is the local community organization dedicated to community development. I will admit that the meetings so far have been very challenging because the people we are meeting with talk so fast, so I only am able to understand a little bit on my own. However, our Spanish teacher is really nice about breaking down the conversation when we get back from the meeting, so that we all understand what happened.

The other days we travel (by pick up about 20 minutes) to San Vicente where the Peace Corps office is to have technical (learning about development in El Salvador, culture, youth development objectives and plans, etc) and medical training, general meetings, and other activities that we need to accomplish prior to leaving for our sites (a lot of housekeeping takes place on these days). We have some Spanish classes on these days which have been about special topics including: Spanish survival, in the market, gestures, etc. Both kinds of days are really long and draining. I would say I enjoy the days we are in San Vicente a little bit more because we talk a lot more in English (sue me), we get to see the entire training class together, and it has air conditioning and a running toilet, so it is nice to have those amenities. I know, I know I need to get over it, don’t remind me.

This upcoming week is a little different. We are in San Vicente an extra day this week and we are going to San Salvador on Thursday to visit a museum, the main headquarters of Peace Corps, and I think they want to show us around where volunteers go to shop and hang out in the city. I am excited for the trip to do something new and see San Salvador for real considering last time I was there I was completely out of it and cannot even remember what it looks like. Although apparently we are traveling there by the regular buses (which means no nice Peace Corps travel arrangements-darnJ) but I guess this is good to get us acclimated to the terrible, sketchy buses that take people to San Salvador. JOY! I am actually not worried, just because I have had some seriously sketchy travel situations in my short life (you know hitchhiking in Morocco kind of thing), so I feel adequately prepared to take on the Salvadoran buses. I promise I am not being cocky though, I will definitely be on guard. J No worries folks.

Aside from training, there is not really much time for anything else. I usually come home from wherever (San Vicente or next door) and have dinner, chat with my family, then go to bed. The best part though of this past week is that Liz (another trainee in my community) and I have non formally started an exercise club. We run at 5 am every morning and then do zumba at 7 p.m. I will admit our zumba is the biggest laughing stock ever. We have no idea what we are doing and it is literally 8 girls dancing ridiculously in the middle of Liz’s living room. There is no coordination, no real technique, and we all do something different. It is amazing. I love it. Of course, I love the 5 am running more, but that is to be expected. This is exactly the kind of thing I hope to do all the time in my future site. Literally teaching kids about exercise and being active- what could be better? Okay, I think that is a pretty good summary of training life. We did have this Saturday off (they don’t kill us) and we went to a lake near one of the other training communities. It was really nice to relax with everyone. I did not swim because I am fighting some kind of cold, but it was awesome to sit by the lake and hang out with all the other gringos! I am getting ready to hike up the mountain in our town with our little exercise group and Liz’s host brother. I am already sweating and I haven’t left yet. It is so beautiful. Be well!

P.S.Here are some pictures I left out in the "Tour of the House" post:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Tour of My House

Hey all! Here are some pictures around my room and house. Sorry they are out of order and have no explanations. I will do an explanation post later, but I want to give others the chance to use the computer. Love to all!